In 1919, a wave of anti-Semitic pogroms, led by Polish peasants and soldiers, took place in Jewish towns throughout Western Galicia. A New York Times article, dated May 23, 1919, reported that in Kolbuszowa, “Ten persons were killed and 100 wounded.”
My great-grandfather, Pesach Lichtman, was among the murdered.
My grandparents, along with the entire family, left Poland soon thereafter. Growing up, I heard the story countless times about how my greatgrandfather was thrown down a well by a ruthless mob and left to die. But only recently have I begun to learn more about who he was and how he lived.
After my father passed away in March 2009 (5 Nissan 5769), I spent some time sorting through and organizing his belongings. My father was a simple man; I did not expect to find too many things of value in his Brooklyn apartment since he had already passed along many items to me during his final years. I put these items in a corner of a room, only focusing on them after shivah.
When the shivah was over, I discovered the most wonderful treasures my father left me. Buried among his myriad possessions were faded photographs of relatives from the “alte heim,” yellowing newspaper clippings and documents, and handwritten letters and postcards, all of which, when pieced together, tell an extraordinary family history.
I found an old but still legible copy of the Kolbuszowa Memorial Book, a remarkable publication that pays tribute to the Jews in the town where my great-grandfather and his landsman lived. With much nostalgia and warmth, the book recounts how some 2,000 Jews worked, lived and worshipped before the Nazis invaded the town. I think of my great-grandfather when peeling through the book’s crumbling pages.
Other treasures I found: footage of my father—in his twenties—and family members attending an event in the late ‘30s to raise funds for the Jews of Kolbuszowa; postcards in German from aunts—sent sometime after the invasion of Poland in 1939—written in code to bypass the censors; grainy blackand- white photographs of relatives’ weddings; marriage records, birth certificates, and on and on.
I am awed by this treasure trove of family history. At the same time, I feel the need to preserve these priceless articles. And so my two oldest granddaughters, Leah Knopfler and Mindy Schreck, and I are in the process of digitizing every photo, every letter and every document in order to preserve our family’s past for future generations. I believe that this is the most significant gift I can give to my children and grandchildren.
Why do I bring up this very personal story? Because preserving the past is not only a concern on an individual level; it is, especially in contemporary times, a concern on the national level.
What do I mean by preserving our national past? I mean preserving our mesorah. This special issue of Jewish Action features a critically important symposium where several prominent talmidei chachamim define and analyze mesorah, a concept that begs for clarification in these trying times. While each contributor explains a different facet of this multi-dimensional concept, all agree that mesorah is our link to the past, our tradition that keeps us distinct and defines us as Torah Jews. Similarly, all of the contributors assert, min one way or another, that despite the voices of modernity clamoring for change and innovation, we must hold steadfast on to mesorah, the glue that binds us as a people, and as a nation.
Aside from the symposium—which I believe is required reading—the issue includes an extensive section on healthy living with articles on living kidney donation (which is, baruch Hashem, becoming increasingly more common in the frum community), nutrition, and the importance of having a halachic living will. Readers will also enjoy our moving tribute to the Bostoner Rebbe, whose first yahrtzeit will be observed on 18 Kislev.
This issue also features the first part of a two-part series on the new generation of young frum political leaders. In recent years, we’ve seen a growing number of American Orthodox Jews either running for elected office or working as staff for elected officials. In the pages ahead, we profile some of these young men and women who make an extraordinary Kiddush Hashem upholding Torah law while working in places such as Washington or City Hall.
As always, we include an array of articles on halachah, Israel, kosher cooking, book reviews and more. Please continue to send us your feedback, and best wishes for a Happy Chanukah!